Posts Tagged With: Urban Homesteading

Honey Harvest, Not Yet

Last week, our friend came over to mentor me with harvesting honey from our top bar hive.  I mentioned before that I suspected that it was full, and I was hoping to do this.

Chris showed me how to use the hive tool to get individual bars out of the hive.  I opened it up to check on how our bees were doing in there.

There was good news…

Lots of comb, filled with honey!

This comb is full of honey, but it is not yet capped, so it can’t be harvested.  Capped honey will stay fresh for a very long time, but uncapped honey is not ready to harvest yet and will go bad if not eaten right away.

But there was also some not so good news; quite a few (lots maybe) of the comb was built across more than one bar.  This is called cross comb and it makes it really difficult to harvest honey.  Chris suspected that it might be because our the sizing of our top bars was off.  You can see in the below picture that I’m actually holding two bars because of this.

It was a bit hot when we were checking all of this out, and some of the comb fell off because of heat made the wax soft.  Combined with that and the cross comb problem, we decided not to harvest anything just yet.

We are coming up with a solution to correcting the cross combing problem, and we wanted to give the bees another couple of weeks to get all that lovely honey capped.

Still, it was exciting to get into the hive and see everything.  We’ll try to document everything as we go along with the bees.

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Categories: Beekeeping, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

The Buzz on Bearding

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you might have noticed Rick posting that our bees were swarming.  However, I am happy to report, the bees weren’t swarming after all.  They were bearding.

Honey bees regulate the temperature of their hive pretty well.  In the winter they use their wings and bodies to keep the hive warm and in the summer they keep it cool by fanning their wings.  If it is really hot, they cool the hive by fanning their wings to create air currents that evaporate water droplets.  And if it’s just burning up, the adult bees go outside to cool themselves and get the hive temp to drop so the brood (the baby bees) don’t end up honey roasted.

Bearding happens when the bee hive is either too full or too hot, or sometimes both.  It is typical bee behavior in the last summer.  But I know for a fact that our hive is full, and this weekend was pretty hot, so the bees spent a few evenings on the outside of the hive cooling down.

Here they are at 8:00 pm last night.  See them all around the entrance:

And here is the hive at 8:00ish this morning.

Last night I took a video.  Video is not my forte, but I thought it was really cool.  Bear with the shakiness of the camera.  I just got back from a three day road trip to help my sister move and C didn’t sleep the entire trip, so neither did I.  In other words, look past the crappy film job.  ;)

Again, we are bee amateurs…  very much beginners.  But I wanted to share as we learn too.  I’m excited that on Wednesday, a friend is coming to help me harvest honey.  It will be our first time; I hope to get lots of pictures of that process!  And I actually think the bees will be happy to have a little more wiggle room in the hive.

In the mean time, here is some good info about bee bearding and bee swarming.

Categories: Beekeeping | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

Thinking Outside the [Ice] Box

Someone recently asked me how the fridge experiment was going, and I realized that I missed the anniversary of when we first unplugged!  To me, that’s a pretty good sign that the project is going well.  The anniversary came and went totally unnoticed.  I imagined (a year ago) that I’d want some sort of fanfare or some official celebration, but I realize that it is better this way.

Running our home without a fridge has become so much a part of our lives that it’s almost mundane to us.  I forget about it completely until someone asks.

Changing ice jugs is routine.  Although we eat mainly fresh food, I don’t shop daily as many people have asked (I have three kids, people, are you nuts!??!), we love dairy (we regularly have milk, yogurt, cheese, half and half and butter in there), and none of us have suffered from Listeria.

Is it for everyone?  Well… I think that if we can do it with three children, probably most other families could too, certainly most single people.  But I realize that living without a fridge in 2012 is pretty far on the other side of the extreme line for many people.  It hasn’t really been an inconvenience for us at all.

I think the key to making it successful for us has been thinking outside of the box.  Many people we’ve talked to about it say they like the idea, but they could never do it because they prefer fresh food too much or that it’s not possible in an urban environment.  We are doing it in Denver and eating fresh foods (including meat and dairy)!  It is basically like using a cooler when camping. We’ve even gone out of town and left it.

Of course it would not be practical for us at all if we did not have the freezer in the garage where we could regularly get ice jugs.  But we run the freezer regardless.

So how long will we keep going?  Right now, we don’t see a reason to stop.  The only question now is what to do with the refrigerator?  Use it for storage for things prone to pests, like flour?  Make a pantry out of it?  A china cupboard? Long-term food storage area for the zombie apocalypse?  Fireproof safe?

We’re currently taking suggestions on that one.

Categories: Food, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Five Last-Minute Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

As we all know, time flies and I’m sure for some,  Mother’s Day has crept up on us this year.  Since we are down to the wire (Mom’s Day is THIS SUNDAY), here is my wishlist of readily available gift ideas that would make any Lazy Homesteader, this one in particular, pretty happy!

  1. Pressure canner such as the Presto 23 quart Deluxe Pressure Canner that is available at the local hardware store.  Yep, Ace at University Hills has one in stock for $119, Rick.  So does the Ace at Cherry Hills Marketplace.   Plus, I have a $5 off coupon in the Chinook book.  ;)  Then I could can up all that broth instead of freezing it; it’d be ready to use in a snap.
  2. Gift card to the local garden center.  Plus watching the kids while I go shop there.  I can use it to buy the frivolous plants you never want me to get when we’re planting out the veggie beds.  And if you do the laundry or the dishes while I’m gone, you might get some sort of husband of the year award.
  3. A gardening/homesteading/foodie/self-sufficiency book.  I have a few titles on my list… A Householder’s Guide to the Universe by Harriet Fasenfest, Kristen Kimball’s The Dirty Life, anything Sharon Astyk has written (her latest, Making Home, is available for pre-order), Coyne and Knutzen’s Making It, one or all of Jennifer McLagan’s books: Bones, Fat, or Odd Bits, Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping, the new Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Bloom and Baldwin, or The Non-Toxic Avenger by Deanna Duke.
  4. Rubber boots.  Okay, so I just bought a pair for myself, but I figured that I’m not the only gardener/homestead type who wants a pair of these.  I love them.  They will run in the $20-35 dollar range.  I was lucky and got these on sale for $18.  Note to my hubby: This does not get you off the hook for Sunday.  :)
  5. New pruners.  Good, sharp ones that will last.  Something in the $30 plus dollar range that can cut through 1″ thick branches.  At this point, I feel like I’ve outgrown the $9.99-special pruners.  They just don’t hold up to the rigors we put them through.  Think of them as an investment.  FELCO is notoriously good, and you can even buy replacement parts.  Hey, show me the order confirmation number and all will be forgiven if they arrive late. ;)

Of course, spending time with the man and the kids is the best part of the day for us moms (as long as there is no laundry and no dishes involved).  And I especially love it when my man cooks for the family.

What is on your Mother’s Day wishlist?

Categories: Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Homestead Garden Tour – May 1, 2012

I wanted to post an update of how things are growing here at the homestead this spring.  I’m excited about our gardens this year, and we’ve worked pretty hard at getting the yard in shape after last year’s tree removal.  Last weekend, we finished the privacy fence along the driveway.  We are really excited about this, since now we’ll be able to explore planting some fruit trees or berry bushes or something permanent along the fence line (we’re not sure what yet). Now we just have a flagstone patio to install (and a pergola)!

We’ve had a lot of spinach so far this spring from plants that self-seeded last year.  And we’ve enjoyed bits of Swiss chard here and there from plants that we planted last year, overwintered and have just kept right on going.  Perpetual chard!

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I’m very excited that our garlic is growing so well.  I think we planted enough for the coming year, plus enough for seed (I’m hoping anyway).  And our potatoes that we planted have grown so much that we’ve hilled up three times so far.  I’m hoping for a big harvest there as well.

The neighbor has already planted a row of corn, and we put the giant pumpkin seeds in the ground last week (along with a few sunflowers).  This week will be our main summer planting.  We are excited to get all those seedlings in – tomatoes, basil, peppers, chives, rhubarb, strawberries…

How is your garden shaping up so far?

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

March Independence Days Update

Wow – here it is the middle of April, and I’m just now getting to the March update.  Yikes!

March was a great month, garden speaking.  I actually got my spring garden in on time!  I planted a lot really, and am happy to report that potatoes, peas, beets, kale, spinach and arugula are all up already.  Some of my lettuce didn’t come up so I’m thinking I’ll have to replant it.

A switch must have flipped for the chickens, since March 1st, we’ve collected 99 eggs.  Ninety-nine!

Plant Something:  Potatoes, Alaskan sugar peas, blue curled kale and red Russian kale, yellow cylindrical beets, Ringmaster onions, spinach, arugula, Boston lettuce, red romaine, Tom Thumb lettuce, Little Gem lettuce, peas and oats cover crop blend in the chicken area.

Harvest Something: Eggs: 99!!  Enough spinach for a pizza and for Emmett to graze on.

Preserve Something:  Froze 1# pizza dough.


Waste Not: Scraps given to chickens and/or compost pile.

Want Not: At the beginning of March, we bought a case of pasta, and at the end of the month we ordered some olive oil in bulk.  Also, the neighbor gave us steel posts so we could get started on the last run of the fence, and two old rusty iron tractor seats that we plan to turn into a garden bench.

Eat the Food:  From the Pantry we’ve eaten peach preserves, peanut butter, strawberry jam, pasta, nuts, plum lavender jam, the last of the dried tomatoes and  pickles, pickles, pickles.  From the freezer: elk flat steak, bell peppers, tomatoes, corn, black bean burgers, peaches, elk back strap, turkey stock, and pizza dough.

Build Community:  In March, we hosted our second potluck and a seed swap.  It was great to get to know friends a bit better and I got some new seeds (peas, cilantro and hollyhocks).  We helped the neighbor get started on a new raised bed in his front yard.

Skill Up: Our neighbor showed Rick how to properly sand and paint steel posts.  

We are headed into one of the busiest times of the year for homesteaders.  The planting season is in full swing.  We had the warmest March I can remember, not one drop of precipitation in what is normally Colorado’s snowiest month, and it is being followed by a chilly April so far.  But everything seems to be growing well, and I’ve certainly gotten the planting itch!

How are things coming along at your homestead?

Categories: Independence Days, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Remedial Composting

When I did my composting boot camp posts we were under a few feet of snow here in Denver.  I was unable to get outside and get any useful pictures of the compost bin in progress for you.  But over the last two weekends, mother nature has been much more cooperative.  We were able to get out to the bins, and coupled with the spring garden cleaning we did, we had plenty of stuff to add to it.

Both bins were pretty full.  The bin on the right had been covered, and I was hoping that it would be full of finished compost, ready to go.

Instead, it was nearly done.  But there were a lot of sticks and twigs in it from the tree last summer that hadn’t broken down yet.  Rick raked it all out of the bin, while Henry and I collected as many sticks as we could.  The plan is to power compost this stuff so it’ll be ready to go into beds by April or early May.

Here is a close up of that almost ready compost:

It looked pretty good, but there were still a lot of big pieces that I wanted to get broken down before we put it in the garden.

The left side of the bin is where we added our kitchen scraps all winter, fall garden materials and sod this spring that we removed from the edges of our flower and herb beds where it was encroaching.  We didn’t turn the pile over the winter at all, and it had many fabulous layers.

See all that beautiful finished compost at the bottom?  That is what I want!  But there is an awful lot of other stuff on top of it.  So we used the now empty bin on the right side to mix up the stuff on the left side all the way down to the finished stuff, which we will keep separate.

We started moving it over…

Not pictured is a bunch of dried grass and leaves and yard clippings that will get mixed in with the layers.  It’s off to the left of the frame.  We had more stuff than we could immediately fit into the bins without doing this process first.

So we tossed part of that top layer of grass and sod into the empty bin on the right, and part of it got tossed in front of the bin, so we could mix in other layers too.  As we moved layers over, we had H grab big armfuls of dry leaves and dry grass to mix in with the stuff coming from the left bin.

As the right-hand-side pile grew, we put the front boards back in to keep it contained.

We watered the pile with the hose as we went.  Remember, it takes water, air, carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) to make a great compost pile.  It was a hot day and the week was supposed to be plenty hot, so I wasn’t worried about making it too wet.

Where the layers were already very wet from the winter snows, we added lots of dry stuff.  If anything was too big, we tried to break it up as well.  The layer from last year’s garden was pretty wet, so it was good to mix in some dry brown material as we went. We were trying to balance it out. 

Also as we got to the middle layers we mixed in some of that first stuff that went over the side of the bin.  The idea it to get it somewhat uniform, so it all rots together, as opposed to the layers we originally had.

You never know what you’ll find in your compost bin.  I found this perfectly grown beet with a weird, crunchy, light-starved top.  It grew somewhere, way down in the pile.

We continued layering and watering and mixing and putting the boards of the compost bin back up until we had reached that finished compost down at the bottom of the left bin.  Then we pulled all that great, finished compost out of the bottom of the bin.

Now we had two piles.  Finished compost on the left, nearly finished compost on the right, and an empty bin.

We could use all that compost on the left, but I really didn’t have a place ready for it yet.  I decided to layer it back in with the nearly done stuff on the right with some of the top soil that we had from the bed edging.

Rick and I grabbed shovels and tossed both piles into the empty bin.

We watered it and then covered it with heavy black plastic. Over the next few weeks, it should cook down to great, useable compost ready to feed this springs’ gardens.

We did all of this work on the 11th.  I’ve checked the left-hand bin pretty regularly. Some days I uncover it and watered it; I’ve mixed it again once with a rake and my hands (so I could feel how wet and warm it was/wasn’t) since then already.  I want to keep it hot and damp, but not too wet.  Like a wrung out sponge or chocolate cake.  We’ve been adding our kitchen scraps and other yard waste to the bin on the right.

That is what composting looks like in action… the down and dirty work of spring cleaning.  ;)

Categories: Compost, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

Green Cleaners in the Kitchen

The kitchen is the urban homestead’s work horse.  And boy do I ever give my old porcelain sink a workout.  It gets pretty stained and dingy and needs a good deep cleaning every week.  Like the bathroom, I basically use white vinegar and baking soda to get the job done.

I start by rinsing the sink, and then I sprinkle baking soda in (again, like many people use Comet).  I drink coffee and my sink gets easily stained.  I grab a sponge and start scrubbing.  Baking soda is actually pretty abrasive and it cuts odors.  Just a little water on your sponge makes this pretty effective.

After the scrub down, I rinse the sink again, plug it and pour in a little white vinegar to take care of any staining that I couldn’t get with the baking soda.  I leave it to soak there while I take care of the back of the sink.  I use a butter knife wrapped in a dishcloth with a little baking soda to get the edges and hard to reach places.

Or for areas that need more muscle, I use a knife/sponge combo.  Like the crack between the sink and the wall, under the window sill.  It’s impossible to get my hand back there – the butter knife does the trick.

By the time I’m done with all of that, the vinegar has done its job in the sink.  So I drain it and move on to the rest of the kitchen.

I use baking soda to scrub my stove top, and dish soap that cuts grease to clean the back of the stove and the toaster oven.  For the counters I have vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle that I spray over all the counters, let sit for a bit and then wipe off.

But recently, I had a stain on my counter that white vinegar couldn’t take care of.  Bleach didn’t cut it either.  It was rust from our cast iron griddle.  What got it finally was lemon juice.

Lemons are powerful.  They can cook shrimp or fish in their juice, they kill germs and bacteria, and the are amazing bleaching agents.  I have proof.  First I squeezed a bit of juice on the stain and rubbed it around.  Then I let it sit for a couple minutes.

I was afraid it wasn’t working.  I sprinkled on some baking soda.  Salt would have been better but I already had the soda out.  It made it all fizzy, and probably neutralized the acid a bit, but I wanted its scrubbing power and figured it had set there, full strength long enough.

So I scrubbed it, and scrubbed it.  And…. it worked.

Then I threw the old, dead, juice-less lemon into the garbage disposal and ran it with water to make it smell nice.  Kitchen cleaned.

What do you use to clean your kitchen?

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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